Corporal punishment, sexual education and mother tongues

There’s a rather big catholic school in our village. And there are also quite a few catholic missions and schools throughout our region. They have annual meetings, where kids sing, play games, and debate on different topics. Yesterday was this year’s meeting. “Come tomorrow at 8”, someone told me. “Come at 8” usually means “we might start at 12”. Around 11 o’clock, I followed some kids to the village community hall, and took a seat on the first row, just in time for the first debate. The topic? “Should we reinstate corporal punishment in schools?” Corporal punishment is prohibited by law in Namibia but it is widely used, and no one seems to oppose it. A teacher was just introducing the topic when a mother sitting in the back raised her voice: “If corporal punishment is illegal, then why did my child…” … The school’s principal, who happened to be there, gently squeezed her on her shoulders and forced her to sit down. The debate started. The two teams were given a side randomly, and they came forward with their arguments:

Corporal punishment should be banned “because the constitution of the country says this and that”, “because it is uncivilized to whip the whip”, “because words are stronger than the whip”. Were they talking figuratively about the whip or not, I started wondering.

Corporal punishment should be reinstated “because if they don’t beat us we won’t do what they tell us to do”, “because this is the only way to respect our teachers”, “because we are only kids and we don’t listen to adults”.

The mother in the back of the hall raised her voice again, and the woman sitting next to her slapped her on the face. Corporal punishment in action. In the meantime the teacher with the microphone said that this was the last time she was raising her voice, and the next time she would be asked to leave. Which is exactly what happened in the next ten minutes, the only difference being that they did not ask but rather forced her to leave the hall. Without distractions, the debate went on.

Next thing on the program – a Tswana traditional dance. Tswana dancing is really beautiful and expressive, and a young boy told all he wanted to tell his teachers with his body. Too pity I didn’t have a camera with me.

Next debate. “Should there be sexual education in primary education or not?” HIV and teenage pregnancy are very urgent problems in the country and sexual education starts very early in the curriculum. As a result, schools are all covered with pictures of male and female reproductive organs, posters of what is sex and who and when should be doing it, and some parents find the graphics a bit too suggestive. “Should we teach our children about sex”, a teacher clarified the topic to the audience.

The debate started. “There should be sexual education so that we would know why our breasts start to hurt”, “when our bodies develop we must know what is happening”, “when our organs develop we must know how to use them”.

No, there shouldn’t be sexual education in primary schools “because when we listen about it we get curious and we want to try it”, “because the Bible says that sex is a gift for the married, and it is sinful to start having sex in primary school”, “because if you start having sex too early, you will get addicted”! God, what are they teaching them?

Right after this mind-blowing debate it was time for no other but the Sexy girls and their dance performance. If sexy means moving your hips in all possible (and impossible) ways, then yes, they were very sexy. The missions’s padre, who was sitting right under the stage must have also sinned in his thoughts after this private dance. Following the Sexy girls, the stage was taken by the Cute girls, and finally – the Beauty queens.

After these “exquisite performances”, as one of the teachers remarked, there was a spelling competition. First word on the list: [saımpl]. Silence. The teacher (in his early twenties, very gangsta style) repeated: [saımpl]. A child started – s-i-m-p-l-e. No, I thought, this should be s-a-m-p-l-e. Wrong. The correct spelling is s-y-m-b-o-l. A teacher from another school objected to his pronunciation. He got offended. “We are all people! We all come from where we come and we all have our mother tongues, so we must learn to understand each other”. My point, exactly, but then why being the one to read the words in a spelling competition?! After half an hour of struggle, one of the schools came first, and the kids left the stage with horrified faces.

Last, a prayer, the music goes to the max, and all start dancing.

I leave, and on the way home think about corporal punishment, sexual education, mother tongues, and the sun is bright, and the village quiet, and I wonder where would these kids be twenty years from now, and how deep marks their schooling years would leave on their bodies and on their souls.

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